Diverse Docket: Judge Dismisses Suit Against Alaska Career College - Higher Education


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Diverse Docket: Judge Dismisses Suit Against Alaska Career College

by Eric Freedman

A federal judge in Anchorage has dismissed a race discrimination and sexual harassment suit against Alaska Career College by a former therapeutic massage program student.

Senior U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline found no legal or factual basis for any of the claims against the proprietary school.

According to the decision, Maceo Melton, who enrolled in the program in 2012, received “sexist, racist and otherwise inappropriate comments and text messages” from a female instructor. When he complained to the dean, he was told to address the situation with the instructor.

However, after Melton shared the text messages, the college took action and the instructor quit, the decision said.

Melton’s suit accused the college of lacking clear written sexual harassment policies and failing to act on earlier incidents involving the same instructor. The suit also raised retaliation and whistleblower claims.

In rejecting the suit, Beistline ruled that the college can’t be held liable under Title IV, Title VII and Section 1981 because it’s a proprietary institution and because Melton wasn’t an employee.

Title VII applies only to employees, the judge said, rejecting the argument that the law should apply to Melton because the college provided “hands-on vocational training.”

Beistline said, “Students provided services to members of the public to further their practical skills and clients paid the clinic $30 to cover clinic expenses. No wages or employee benefits were provided to students.”

In addition, Melton didn’t show that the college treated him worse than similarly situated students not in his protected class who hadn’t engaged in whistleblower activity, and didn’t offer sufficient evidence of retaliation, Beistline said.

The judge also said Title IX doesn’t authorize private lawsuits for failing to publicize an effective grievance procedure and policy for sexual harassment allegations.

UAB cleared

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) didn’t discriminate or violate the due process rights of a White male dental student dismissed for poor academic performance, the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has held.

The three-judge panel unanimously affirmed a ruling against Douglas Rollins III who claimed he was discriminated against because he is a White man.

Rollins enrolled in 2011, failed a required course in dental anesthesia during his second semester and ranked third-to-last in his class at the end of that semester.

The academic performance committee voted to dismiss Rollins and an African-American woman from the same class but to let a White woman repeat her first year, the decision said.

He unsuccessfully appealed to the Faculty Council, which also discussed concerns about Rollins’ academic integrity based on allegations that somebody else wrote his academic appeal and that he had plagiarized parts of a paper.

His Title IX and Title VI suit sought damages and an order allowing him to repeat his first year or to remediate his failing grade in dental anesthesia.

In refusing to reinstate the suit, the Court of Appeals found that “UAB officials acted carefully and deliberately in dismissing Rollins from dental school” and said he failed to present a single comparative student “with a sufficiently similar academic record who was also denied remediation.”

On the gender bias claim, the court found no direct evidence of discriminatory intent.

As for race dissemination, it said there was no basis for the assertion that the dental program dropped Rollins “as a means for the school to ‘offset’ the dismissal of an African-American female.” In addition, it found no direct evidence that the associate dean involved “was motivated by racial animus” and noted that another faculty member had testified on Rollins’ behalf at the Faculty Council meeting.

Student loses suit

An African-American doctoral student dropped from a physical therapy program has lost her race discrimination case against Neumann University and two faculty members.

Andrea David contended that two professors at the Aston, Pennsylvania, school “created and perpetuated a racist environment by repeatedly referring to bone structures in the human skeleton as ‘slaves’ and ‘slave masters,’” according to the decision by U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno.

She also asserted that the professors treated her differently from non-African-American students “by making her practicum more difficult and failing to follow the student handbook policies and regulations with respect to her evaluation,” Robreno said.

David started the doctoral program in May 2013 and was terminated a year later after receiving an F on her practicum exam, the decision said.

The suit alleged racial discrimination violations of Title VI, Title VII and Section 1983, as well as breach of contract.

Dismissing the Title VI claim, Robreno said the professors’ alleged use of the offensive words “slaves” and “slave masters” in class didn’t show a discriminatory motive, and there was no allegation that university officials knew about those comments.

Similarly, he found no grounds for the Section 1981 claim, citing lack of evidence of a racially hostile environment and her failure to demonstrate that she was qualified to continue in the program after flunking her practicum.

Robreno said Title VII doesn’t apply because David wasn’t an employee.

As for breach-of-contract claims, Robreno said Pennsylvania law treats the relationship between a student and a private university as contractual, but he said that David failed to present “a specific and identifiable promise that the school failed to honor.”

Nor did she provide evidence that Neumann had violated her right to “fundamental fairness and due process,” the judge said, noting that private institutions aren’t required to give students the same due process rights as public institutions must give.

However, he gave David an opportunity to amend and refile parts of her complaint.

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